|Close up of Jeremy Wade holding up Shark teeth and jaw in Australia. Photo: Animal Planet.|
Season 4 of River Monsters ended last night with Lair of the Giants -- a beautifully photographed, two-hour series of exploration on the Essequibo River in Guyana. Jeremy Wade wends his way deep into the forests to arrive at a secret lake where he catches what is apparently a new species of arapaima.
What seduced me was not only the fertile but forbidding landscape where life seems undisturbed by human intervention, but also the many parallels with literature of exploration in this region of South America and beyond.
Jeremy Wade makes several impressive catches here, but in the spirit of magical realism, I expected butterflies to rain a la Gabriel García Marquez.
Guyanese author Wilson Harris’ Palace of the Peacock came to mind -- the first installment of The Guyana Quartet. The narrator is a dreamer in this tale about a doomed crew making its way up a Guyana river and the colonial politics of the savannahs.
The bodies of water flow but are impenetrable as the land. I couldn't help but think of Werner Herzog’s film Fitzcarraldo -- the quixotic quest to bring opera to the frontier requires delivering a riverboat through thick jungle. Jeremy Wade’s task of portaging a heavy dugout canoe over logs to avoid the rapids seemed no less daunting, if on a smaller scale.
My mind then turned to Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Set in Africa, traveling up river is a geographical and psychological journey. Its modern film interpretation, Apocalypse Now, is a story about war and battling one's inner demons, set on a river that is in many ways a central character.
It seems that rivers bring out the best and worst -- the monsters within that are caught and assuaged without rod and reel.
|Jeremy Wade with an arapaima caught in a previous season in Brazil. Photo: Animal Planet.|
The myth of El Dorado was alive and well in Lair of the Giants, when Jeremy Wade decides to go up river because gold-seeking vessels close to civilization interfere with the natural balance of wildlife.
And finally, while seeing Jeremy Wade stand on a ledge over a powerful waterfall, I thought about the inspiration at the spring well of rivers, the source of mysteries. The moment echoes Alejo Carpentier’s masterpiece, The Lost Steps. In the novel, a New York composer searches for the origins of music in the jungles of South America. He travels up river and finds what he was looking for -- only to lose it again once he returns to civilization. His reason for leaving? He needs pen and paper in order to sketch a great musical work. The one secret path to Eden in the thickets of the river banks is forever gone.
Such is the life of an explorer. Being present in the moment yet recording what has past must be bittersweet.
There’s no official word yet if River Monsters will continue with a Season 5, though rumor has it Jeremy Wade has been fishing in Lake Champlain.
By the way, my Gus the Grouper series has yet to be completed. I’ve been “in the moment” myself, tarpon fishing on the gulf coast of Florida. More fishing and fishing-inspired stories to come.